‘Black Mirror’ Study Guide: Hated In The Nation
This episode ponders surveillance technology, invention vs. intention, and the thin line technology exists on between tool and weapon.
‘Black Mirror’ is a satirical anthology series that examines the dark aspects of modern society, particularly as it relates to our relationship with technology. Each standalone episode presents a picture of a world that’s futuristic, yet believable; cool, yet horrifying. Each of these study guides will touch on some of the themes the episode explores.
“Big Brother is watching you.” We say it all the time, somewhat facetiously, but I think we as a society don’t really realize how Orwellian the modern world really is. We put tape over the webcam of our laptops — or at least, we know we should, especially after “Shut Up and Dance” — yet walk around with smartphones that have the potential to provide a lot more than live video to anybody with the technological know-how to do it.
Digital assistants and smart-home devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home — Apple’s HomePod is also on its way, too— take this to the next level. Do people realize that you can talk to these digital assistants because they’re speakers that are always listening to you? Yet, society doesn’t bat an eye, perhaps blinded by the “cool” factor. I’m not accusing Amazon and Google and Apple of spying on us, but the technology they introduce makes it easier for somebody to do so.
Invention vs. Intention
Twitter gives everybody with internet access a voice that can reach all corners of the globe. It also allows a stranger to tell you to kill yourself. Technology is rarely used only and exactly in the way it was intended to be used. This is at the core of “Hated In The Nation” and the bee drones. A necessity was identified, an invention was introduced to fill that need, and it did it’s job perfectly, at first. Then, someone somewhere found a way to use it in a way it wasn’t intended to be used.
People often say “Nature finds a way”, but when it comes to these kind of situations with technology, it’s people that will find a way. Regardless of the intent behind the creation of a new technology, someone somewhere fill find a way to use technology for nefarious activity. Computers that have much more security and protection can still be hacked. What makes you think digital assistants and smart-home speakers can’t? It’s a matter of when, not if.
Technology: Tool or Weapon?
One of my favorite movies of the last few years is Arrival. There’s a scene in that movie where people try to translate an alien message, and the message they get mentions a “weapon.” People freak out, but then a linguist explains that the aliens may just mean “tool.” While it wasn’t the point, it does highlight the razor-thin line between “tool” and “weapon.” (This seems like a good time to inform you that bee drones already exist.)
To its creators, the bee drones were tools, made to restore an imbalance in nature. To another, they’re weapons. This is true for anything from Artificial Intelligence to hammers. You might say “If this is a danger that exists for everything, why bother avoiding certain technology?” Because this danger is more of a possibility for some technology than others. Some technology is just waiting to be used as a weapon. Some technology just appeals too much to the darkest corners of human nature, and that is the core of Black Mirror.
Bonus: Two Small Details I Loved
- The recurring motif of people using cakes to send messages that was also used in “Shut Up and Dance.”
- The abundance of nods to previous episodes in the news tickers.